By Dominic McGrath and Cate McCurry, PA
There have been a further 2,605 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic, figures released by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) show.
The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 stands at 487, including 99 in intensive care.
It comes as the Taoiseach said the Government will consider rolling out rapid antigen test kits more generally.
Micheál Martin said he wants to develop a culture of self-testing for coronavirus.
The Government is to launch a communications campaign around the proper use of antigen tests and when they should be used.
It comes as close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic will receive a box of antigen tests.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed that the new initiative has begun and that close contacts who are vaccinated and do not have symptoms of the virus will now be able to test themselves at home using the free tests.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Martin said: “We are now dealing close contacts as of today.
“We should develop a culture of self-testing and that would be regular and that would be something that people would do in the right circumstances, with the right advice.
“There will be a communications campaign around the proper use of antigen tests because the expert review group did ascertain there is a need for proper advice for the utilisation of such tests as a supplement to PCR.”
He said that antigen testing will be a “further weapon” in the Government’s armoury to deal with the current wave of Covid.
The Government announced earlier this month that antigen testing would have a wider role in the State’s response to the pandemic.
The free antigen tests are available to anyone aged 13 and over.
If an antigen test comes back positive, people will be required to self-isolate and get a PCR Covid-19 test.
The Health Service Executive says that people will receive a box of five antigen tests and will be asked to do three tests over the course of several days.
“It is a really important day today for rapid testing,” Mr Donnelly said.
He said households can expect to receive antigen tests from Friday onwards but urged anyone with symptoms to still get a PCR test.
Mr Donnelly admitted he would have liked the rollout of rapid testing to have been quicker. “It has been slower than I would have liked,” he told Newstalk.
Concerns have been expressed in recent days about the major increase in Covid-19 cases.
Mr Martin also said that Government has not received any advice about cutting down on children’s activities outside school over worrying case numbers.
At a briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Wednesday afternoon, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that parents should consider if their children need to be part of every activity.
“We have received no advice in terms of children not playing outdoor sports or being engaged in outdoor activity,” Mr Martin said.
“I think the more outdoor activities that we can continue with, the better," he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Donnelly said that Ireland’s successful vaccine programme was the only reason that nightclubs and late-night venues had been allowed to reopen.
The Minister for Health expressed support for the idea of extending the vaccine booster programme to healthcare workers, but said the Department of Health had to wait for advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).
“I would do it tomorrow. I think there’s a very strong case for boosters for healthcare workers,” he said.
“The advice from Niac has always worked population by population, cohort by cohort.”
Mr Donnelly said that he and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan were “engaging very closely with Niac on this”.